I am haunted by humans – Markus Zusak.
January was the longest month ever. Because of the extra hours and days in between the 1st and today, you would think that I would have somehow found the time to read more than what I did. Nevertheless, all those books I received for Christmas are still pristine and waiting on the top shelf of my bookcase. Instead, I found this copy of The Book Thief in an amazing local charity shop, and began reading it a few days later (or maybe it was a week). It is a completely different read to my usual roster of books. This year is all about widening my bookish horizons and I have done just that with my third book of the year.
For starters, the narrator of The Book Thief is Death himself. He’s not as morbid as I thought he would be and his quips about hating on the boss are sinisterly funny. It is quite refreshing to have the story written in third person (so to speak), with the narrator having an identity of its own. (S)he kept the story about Liesel Meminger flowing in its natural state and told it with as much heart as the Grim Reaper could give, which was actually quite a bit. It makes you think whether there is such a character in death, whether it would care to take us away gently, watch our souls rise up away from sleeping bodies. The personification is definitely a clever tactic that Zusak uses, making the reader think that much more about why Liesel’s story is such an important one to tell. It definitely is, for all sorts of reasons.
Liesel enters Death’s peripheral vision when he takes away her younger brother who never made the journey to fateful Himmel Street in Molching. For some reason, he follows her life as the train guards carry her dead little brother to the local cemetery. It is here that she steals her first book. Death is certainly intrigued, and always finds her, follows her and watches her. Ironically, she is the one that Death leaves alone for the entirety of her young life, despite being plummeted in the middle of the Fuhrer’s war.
Her new life with her new Mama and Papa (I wonder if her mother was a Jew, and therefore Liesel was, in part, too) on Himmel Street is standard for a ten year old girl. She plays football with the other children in the street, meets her neighbour and best friend, Rudy, and attends school. However, she has that secret book under her bed and she wishes she could read the words plastered all over the page. Her Papa begins to teach her to read in the twilight hours and the story of her love for words begins.
Liesel has a complicated relationship with words throughout those years at Himmel Street. She loves them; she hates them; they bring her joy; they bring other people solace; they cause war; they break her heart; they save her life. Their powerful relationship (and I say powerful because words can make or break a person) is a representation of a lot of things in Nazi Germany, and in life itself. Words are there to be expressed, and they were expressed in Nazi Germany. In doing so, many millions died. The handful who survived were and are forever haunted by those years of war. On the other hand, words were expressed within the extrememly confined walls of Liesel’s life, specifically with her friend, Max, a Jew in hiding; in hiding in the Hubermann basement.
Max is my favourite character, or perhaps he was the one I cared about the most. The way Zusak describes him is not as a hero, but a survivor. He comes close to Death’s clutches a handful of times, but manages to escape them, surviving by the skin of his teeth. He cares for Liesel as an older brother, creating stories for her, sharing tales of his life. In turn, she reads to him, gives him gifts and describes the sun’s heat or the winter’s ice. They are companionable in comfortable silence, and so when they part ways it is devastating for both them and the reader. I was praying nothing would happen to Max, despite his absence from the pages.
Zusak’s writing is incredible. He fills the pages with beauty and horror, the horror of beauty and the beauty of horror. His descriptions transport you to Nazi Germany, at a time that not everyone necessarily agreed with the Fuhrer but pretended to in order to survive. The Book Thief is about the small acts of rebellions that end up being some of the biggest saviours any person can think to have. It is a poignant story; it is a masterpiece and it is a story filled with love, no matter how devastating the time and acts that surround them.
Have you read The Book Thief? Are there any similar stories that you could recommend?
Love, Faye xo